When Alcohol Meets Ice CreamWritten by Jane Littlefair
The family behind Bangkok’s first alcoholic ice cream at Poptales discusses the secrets of being a successful a start-up business in the ice cream industry.
One family, one ice cream business. Poptales emerged from a mutual love of ice cream by sisters Ploy and Preaw, who were then later joined by their cousins Mint, Mac, and Mild. Here, the enthusiastic trio discusses their journey from startup to significant force in the ice cream industry in Thailand.
Not everyone harbours a sweet tooth, but most people love ice cream. That is certainly the case for 5 cousins, Ploy, Preaw, Mint, Mac, and Mild who have recently turned their childhood obsession into a thoroughly grown up business in Bangkok with the launch of Poptales Ice Cream Factory. Inspired by a visit to a store in London selling popsicles in 2014, Preaw and Ploy returned home full of ideas for a new sort of ice cream brand – one that blended traditional flavours with altogether new ones – think Lychee Mojito, Matcha Latte and Pina Colada, and you begin to get the gist.
Offering customisable flavours as well as an extensive menu of signature recipes, the 5 cousins have quickly grown their business into something of a cult concern – and one with over 18,000 social media followers. Here, they discuss how they took something as frothy as ice cream and how they have turned it into something.
How did Poptales begin?
Ploy: The idea really began when my sister (Preaw) and I were shopping in a dessert bookstore in London 4 years ago. We came across a booth selling popsicles and decided to buy their book to bring back to Bangkok. That was when we started making our first batches of ice cream. We then presented our idea to our cousins, Mint, Mild and Mac. We all grew up together in the same house and had have enjoyed our desserts like the Thai dessert “foi-thong” and of course, ice cream. We started off making popsicles, they liked the idea, and eventually, it led to Poptales.
Have you always wanted to start a business together?
Mint: Yes, we have always wanted to start a business focused on something we are all passionate about. Ploy’s background in bartending helped lead us to this concept of mixing ice cream with alcohol. She is the brain of our recipes and is always coming up with creative ideas.
How’s the alcoholic ice cream concept going so far?
Ploy: It’s a very new concept. People were questioning it a lot when we first launched our alcoholic ice cream at Bangkok Farmers’ Market. What is it? How did you make it? Is it safe to consume? Will I get drunk? It took a while for people to open their minds up to the idea, especially the older generation. The younger generation were more willing to try it out from the start, so they are still our main customers for the alcoholic ice creams.
What is the inspiration behind the name Poptales?
Ploy: At first, we wanted to make popsicles, so that’s where we got the pop from. And tales is from cocktails. We also want to tell a story through our ice cream like a fairytale, so Poptales is the perfect name for us.
What is your education background before starting Poptales?
Preaw: I graduated from Mahidol University in the communications design field.
Ploy: I studied my bachelors in Hotel Management in Switzerland- that is why I am very into the food and beverage industry.
Mint: I graduated my bachelors from ABAC in International Management and Marketing. I then furthered my education at Les Roches in Hospitality as well. After that, I worked at the Four Seasons Hotel as a front office agent.
What do you think of the ice cream scene in Bangkok?
Ploy: When we first launched Poptales 3 years ago, we were the only alcoholic ice cream business around. In the last year, however, the idea has become a growing trend and people have become more open-minded about it.
Mint: After we launched our ice cream business we saw many competitors popping up; therefore, we know the ice cream market is growing.
At what point did you become aware of a gap in the market?
Mint: From the very start.
Ploy: Firstly, I love to drink and I used to do bartending- I realised that no other ice cream business combine the two. We surveyed the idea with our family members and siblings and they were all impressed, probably because it seemed new.
In a well-established marketplace, what makes Poptales different from its competitors?
Ploy: I think that is thanks to our distinctive cocktail flavours, and also because we can customise our flavours to whatever you may like. If you host a birthday party, we will let you create your birthday flavour. We wanted to develop an idea of giving ice cream as a present. We also use fresh and raw ingredients to make our ice cream and support local farmers, and we offer vegan ice cream, too.
Mint: Since we are not a big company, we do not mass produce. We categorise ourselves as a boutique company focused on niche markets.
Did you have a clear vision of how you wanted to market your ice cream?
Mint: Yes, we had this idea from the very start. However, we also had to expand our minds, and our market since people were narrow-minded about the alcoholic ice cream concept at the beginning. So, we grew slowly by creating new lines such as sorbet and vegan ice creams to offer something in addition to our cocktail flavours.
What has been your biggest challenge since starting Poptales?
Ploy: We have a lot of competitors in Bangkok – its a city with so many dessert and bakery places. It is important to keep up with the trends and come up with new flavours and ideas all the time.
How do you hope that Poptales will have evolved five years from now?
Ploy: We recently started expanding and exporting ice cream to Japan. If we could extend to more countries and partners around the globe, that would be amazing.
Why do you think your business model has been such a success in Bangkok? Can this model work in other countries?
Ploy: Our success has happened because we are very hands-on and, most importantly, we are passionate about what we do. We are a startup company, and we look into the tiny details of every step; from purchasing to finding suppliers to finalising the flavours.
Most importantly, we are passionate about what we do and our ice creams. We also have a strong bond as we are a family. If there are any concerns, we will talk to each other right away. We don’t have to go through different hierarchies to get our message across which makes the decision process faster.
Is there anything you’d change about your career?
Ploy: Before we had the idea for Poptales, we didn’t plan anything. We didn’t do a long-term plan for our business. We are new to the industry and we don’t have the knowledge. There were a lot of trials and errors at the beginning, and, if we understood the market more at the start, we could have minimised costs.
If you weren’t making ice cream what would you be doing instead?
Mint: Wow, this is a tough question. I would probably be working in a Hotel as I completed my Bachelor in Hotel Management.
Ploy: I think I would be a bartender.
Preaw: I think I would be a freelance designer.
Do you have any tips or suggestions for startups?
Preaw: Have passion!
Mint: If you put your mind to it, anything can happen. Even if you think you’re not smart enough, eventually, you’ll make it.
Ploy: Do what you love so it won’t feel like work. If you do, you’ll quickly come up with new ideas and have the drive to study more.
Finally, what are some of your most outrageous ice cream flavours?
Ploy: Our Christmas gift set will feature new flavours that people in Thailand will never have tried before including Thai corn toffee browny and peppermint oreo truffle.
Mint: If I have to list some, it would probably be Yen Ta Four (Thai noodle soup) and Tom Yum Goong flavour. We also made a miso caramel ice cream for a Japanese restaurant once.